The Dominique (or Dominicker, or Pilgrim Fowl, depending on where you live) has a lot to recommend it to anyone raising chickens, especially for a beginner. With their dark gray and white barred coloring, you may overlook them. Sure, there are plenty of fancier and flashier breeds out there but none with this background.
Let’s start with the fact they’re considered to be the first, and oldest, American breed of chicken, going back to the 1750’s. There’s a good reason for that longevity, and for them being a chosen breed of the original colonists and pioneers, who required a hardy bird to survive the tough times they were going to be subjected to. I read somewhere this was the breed the pioneers took to follow their covered wagons when they went to homestead in the west. I haven’t yet found anything to confirm that but if I had to pick a breed to make that perilous trip, this is what I’d choose.
Almost a Lost Breed
By 1970, there were only around 300 birds left and the breed was seriously endangered. In 1987 the Livestock Breed Conservancy began working with dedicated breeders and as of the 2016 Conservation Priority list, they have moved up to the “Watch” category meaning there are fewer than 5,000 breeding birds in the U.S.
They’re tough birds – bred to be great foragers, with the instinct to scratch for seeds and weeds and hunt for insects. Let them into your garden and they’ll track down anything that moves; watch them in your yard, and they’ll chase down, and even run and jump to catch an insect. They’ll readily supplement their feed with whatever they can find out free ranging, saving you money and adding to their nutritional balance.
Birds with Personality
If this makes them sound aggressive, let me reassure you that they’re extremely friendly and docile, especially if you raise them being used to human contact from the time they’re chicks. All of my gals are more than willing to be picked up and handled whenever anyone, not only me, approaches them. They follow when called and only have a problem with going back into their coop at night if I’m late letting them in. Then, because of their independent nature, they’re perfectly willing to roost in the trees. Which is one drawback because they can fly – even as high as 15 feet, in my experience – so a garden fence may not necessarily be a deterrent. But, because they are so good at foraging, it’s not such a bad thing to give them access once your seedlings are big enough to withstand their scratching.
Their rose shaped combs, which is one thing distinguishing them from Barred Rocks (who were actually bred from the Dominikers), combined with their feathers being held tighter to their body than a lot of other breeds, makes them really adaptable to even extreme cold weather. They also do well in heat and humidity. And their coloring – striped feathers of light and dark gray, called “barred” – makes them more difficult for predators to find. I can attest to that: I’ve never lost one to any predator though I also credit their instincts and intelligence for that.
A Dual Purpose Breed
Dominiques are decent egg layers, starting at about 6 months old and laying medium sized, brown eggs, about 230 – 275 eggs per year. Although their eggs aren’t considered “large” in size, the yolks are larger than many other breeds, in proportion to the white. They’re also good meat birds, with their mature weight being from 6 – 8 pounds and a broad body. The hens can become broody, meaning they’ll sit on their eggs waiting for them to hatch, and it can be hard to discourage them when do.
According the Jeannette Beringer, of The Livestock Breed Conservancy, “If you are looking for a great homestead bird, the Dominique could be considered a Cadillac among chickens.” I’d add to that they may become your favorite out of your flock for many reasons, including the fact that you now own a piece of history.
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